Canon RF 600mm f/11 Lens Review | Crazy Long & Crazy Affordable
In this article/video, I’ll give you my honest thoughts on a monster of a lens (size-wise), the new Canon 600 mm RF lens. Let’s go ahead and dive straight in.
Video: Canon RF 600mm f/11 Lens Review | Crazy Long & Crazy Affordable
[Related Reading: Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Review]
What Is This Lens?
At 600mm, the Canon RF 600mm f/11 Lens is a fixed focal length prime lens that also has a fixed aperture of f/11. You can close down past f/11, of course, but it will not open up wider than f/11.
- Focal Length 600mm
- Maximum Aperture f/11
- Lens Mount Canon RF
- Format Compatibility Full-Frame
- Angle of View 4° 10′
- Minimum Focus Distance 14.76′ / 4.5 m
- Maximum Magnification 0.14x
- Optical Design 10 Elements in 7 Groups
- Focus Type Autofocus
- Image Stabilization Yes
- Filter Size 82 mm (Front)
- Dimensions (ø x L) 3.66 x 10.61″ / 93 x 269.5 mm
- Weight 2.05 lb / 930 g
- Price $699
Why Is This Exciting?
This monstrosity of a lens is exciting because up until now, if you wanted a 600mm prime lens, the only real option was the Canon EF 600mm f/4. That is the sports and nature journalist’s dream lens, but it will set you back $13,000 and some change. Remember, you’ve got to pay tax and shipping on top of that as well. It also weighs something like 7 pounds, so good luck shooting with it without a tripod or monopod. It’s just not going to work out well for you.
On the other hand, this RF 600mm lens costs $700 and it weighs less than two pounds. We get this crazy long lens that is lightweight and portable at a really affordable price point. Okay, so that’s exciting, but it brings me to my next question.
Who Is This Lens For?
Well, I would say it’s probably not a great idea to grab this lens and go out and shoot portraits, unless you like to direct your subjects through a walkie-talkie, because you’re going to be about 200 feet away. You’re not going to use this for portraits. You’re also not going to use it in any case where you essentially need compositional flexibility. You simply don’t have that with this lens.
600mm is very long, which makes this an ideal lens for journalists who like to photograph birds. If you like birds, you’re going to like this lens. It’s also great for people who like to photograph sports, like surfing, baseball, or soccer, where you’re at a good distance from the subjects.
It’s an absolutely awesome lens, and what I want you to know is how cool this lens is when it’s paired with extra resolution. I’m not talking about something like the Canon EOS R6, which I believe has 20 megapixels. I’m talking about when you pair this lens with a megapixel monster of a camera.
What you’re essentially doing is making the focal length longer. If I pair this lens with an EOS R5, or one of Canon’s other new up-and-coming cameras (which we know will include some high megapixel monsters), such as one with 50-80 megapixels, you can crop in and still have insane amounts of resolution. This effectively turns a 600mm lens into something like a 1200mm to 2000mm lens, and that’s without even adding any form of extender onto the lens. This brings me to my next point.
[Related Reading: The Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Wild Birds]
What’s It Like Actually Shooting with This Lens?
I put the lens on so that I could tell you exactly what it was like. I took this out to photograph birds, which I had never done before. I figured it would be a fun way to test this lens. I grabbed my aero bike and put a backpack on, and that’s when I first noticed the convenience of the small footprint this lens gives you. I had room in a small backpack for the camera, lens, and even a little chair as well. I rode out to Back Bay in Newport Beach, sat on my chair, and started photographing birds.
I loved getting out to the location, even after biking 20+ miles. The trip is made easier with gear like this because it’s actually lightweight and fairly portable, as I mentioned. You don’t necessarily need to have a tripod or a monopod to use this lens. I shot it handheld the entire time.
After I first put the lens on the camera, I noticed a message that instructed me to set the lens to the shooting position. I wondered, “What the hell does that mean?” Unbeknownst to me, this lens actually only operates in “rocket launcher” mode (how it looks when the lens is extended) and to get it to rocket launcher mode, you simply have to unlock a little dial at the base of the lens. It’s easy to do, but it took me about 10 minutes to figure out. Luckily, you’re good to go once you have it locked in place. However, until you put it into rocket launcher mode, or its shooting position, it’s just going to show the message the whole time. I was very annoyed at first because I was watching birds fly away, and I couldn’t figure out how to get started. Granted, I’m assuming that most of you are probably smarter than I am, so there’s that.
Funny enough, once I started shooting, I found I could’ve used a longer focal length. I soon realized that there’s no such thing as long enough, especially when you’re photographing animals. I wanted to get even closer, and that’s where a really high-resolution camera body would’ve made for an absolutely crazy combination with this setup.
It was very easy to shoot with just the LCD when the birds weren’t moving quickly. However, with moving subjects, when they started flying, it became pretty difficult to track them. I found it necessary to actually bring the camera up and shoot through the viewfinder. Otherwise, I struggled to track them. I would highly suggest bringing the viewfinder up to the eye and tracking fast-moving subjects that way.
What Is It Like Shooting at f/11?
If you’re shooting subjects moving at a decent speed, you want your shutter speed to be around 1/2000, which is sort of a sweet spot for bird photography, as well as for photographing sports and action. At least with sports, you can slow down somewhat, but for birds, we generally want to be around 1/2000. But, at 1/2000 and f/11, you’re already talking about ISO 400 in bright sunlight. I was actually shooting in somewhat cloudy weather, so it wasn’t as bright as if I were shooting under midday sun. I shot at ISO 800 just to get to the proper shutter speed of 1/2000 and f/11. That said, keep that in mind that you’re going to want to pair this lens with a camera body that can shoot high ISO as well.
What Camera Should I Use with This Lens?
When pairing this lens with a camera like an R5 or an R6 (vs an EOS R), you’re going to get better low light performance. Definitely do not drop to something like the EOS RP because although the lens will work on that camera body and give you an even smaller footprint, you’ll already be pushing the limitations of quality detail at ISO 600 or ISO 800. On top of this, you have to consider the lighting conditions for the time of day you plan to shoot. At sunset, for example, if you’re going to shoot surfers or sports, and you want to keep your shutter speed at 1/1000 or 1/2000, you might need to push your ISO up to3200 or 6400. Again, you’re going to get the best bang for your buck by pairing this lens with a higher megapixel, higher quality camera.
The other thing that I noticed was that even at f/11, you still get quite a bit of depth and bokeh, and that just has to do with the focal length of the lens. I found that the EOS R, which is what I paired it with, tended to slightly back focus and front focus, sometimes leaving my birds less than tack sharp. I think I would’ve gotten better results on the R5 or the R6 because the focus systems in those cameras should be a bit better.
I’m going to be 100% honest. For $700, getting a 600mm lens, I was blown away by the image quality. I mean, you can look at the shots that we’re showing here, and while I’ll fully admit I’m not the best bird photographer, I was still able to get some really nice shots.
Sharpness and detail, edge to edge, was fantastic. Yes, if you pixel peep this against its $13,000 f/4 cousin, then yeah, you’re probably going to get better image quality out of the more expensive lens. You’ll also get better low light performance and so on, but for what this is, for the price point, for the size, and for everything that it gives you, I was more than impressed. Based on the actual image quality, you get your money’s worth in this lens. I would buy this lens if I photographed action/sports and/or birds. It’s absolutely a fantastic lens.
Granted, this doesn’t really fit into my typical wheelhouse of portraiture, so it’s not something that I would purchase and put in my bag, but I would definitely rent it to take out on occasion.
Just remember two things: 1) The lens has a tendency to front and back focus, and 2) the f/11 comes with limitations, meaning you’ll want to pair this lens with a solid camera body, like an EOS R5 or R6 or better. The EOS R, in my opinion, was the baseline minimum that you would want. I would also remind you that this is a 600mm fixed focal length lens, a specialist lens, so you really have limited compositional control beyond simply moving closer or farther away on your own two feet, and you may be limited, depending on the kind of scenes/locations that you’re shooting in.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I would really love to have this lens to go traveling with,” then you might reconsider. For those of you that like to travel and you still want telephoto capability, I would recommend something like a 70-200mm, or a 100-300mm lens, where you still have range. If you’re shooting birds or animals, where distance is a common issue, then the 600mm lens is going to be perfect for you.
I realize that this is all basic advice, given that it’s a 600mm focal length prime lens. I want you to walk away with practical advice, however, because if you’re not constantly shooting at those longer distances, then you’re just not going to be able to utilize the lens as much as you might want.
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